Job sharing - two brains for the price of one

17 June 2013

There are many reasons why a job share arrangement would appeal to employees. At its crux is the desire to reduce your working week while remaining in the workforce: perhaps transitioning to retirement, returning to part-time study or achieving that coveted work/life balance.

Ella Tassi and Darlene White, Joint Head of Marketing at Bennelong Funds Management, have been job sharing since 2006. They talk about the benefits, risks and how you can make it work.

What is ‘job-sharing'?

In its purest sense, job-sharing sees the one role equally shared between two part-time employees. While it's not uncommon at junior level roles, such as a receptionist, and in certain professions, such as nursing and teaching, it is less common at senior levels and in corporate workplaces.


What makes it work?

There are a few golden rules to follow.

1. Shared work ethic

Like all good partnerships, you need to be well-matched. If one person is having long lunches and the other is staying back each night, clearly the arrangement is not going to work.

The benefit to the employer is that you tend to work at a pace which, as an individual, would not be sustainable. Under normal circumstances, if you have two frantic days, you'll naturally work at a slower pace the next day. But when you job share, you read the handover notes and see the sheer quantity of work completed in the past two days, and you're naturally driven to match it.

2. Present a consistent and united front

If a decision is made by one person, you can't come in the next day and undermine what they've done. You must be 100% supportive and be each other's strongest advocates. This demands enormous respect for each other's skills. While you may have dealt with an issue differently (and you can certainly discuss that amongst yourselves), it's critical to present a united front. The business can't afford for one person to spend time undoing what has already been done, and the job share partnership can't afford to seem dysfunctional. Fortunately for us, our approach is predominantly consistent and we have absolute consensus about the outcomes we're working towards.

3. Leave ego at the front door

It can't be about what you, the individual, have achieved, but rather what has been accomplished by the role itself. We use the royal ‘we' a lot and never draw attention to individual contributions. We don't work in isolation, but rather adapt a very consultative approach, meaning we both contribute to outputs which, in turn, creates a better end result.

The consultative approach has also meant that even at times when the marketing team comprised of only one FTE, we still had the luxury of bouncing ideas off another marketing professional. This was a real sanity saviour in the early days: have you ever tried to ask an accountant what they think about a design concept?

4. Detailed handover processes

In hospitals, where service is required 24/7, handover processes are a critical part of daily operations. This was our starting point - if they can implement processes to ensure ‘life and death' data is shared, surely we can do so in a corporate environment.

From the outset, we felt it was important to provide the business a seamless service - the burden of sharing information rests with us. Our goal is to be able to walk in on the first day of your own working week and know exactly what's taken place over the past few days.

We have a number of robust handover processes in place that ensure all critical information is shared: we have extensive handover notes that summarise not only projects' statuses but also key conversations and meetings attended, and we have a weekly face-to-face where we brainstorm ideas, download any issues and work out solutions.

The end result is that the people we work with don't have to recall who they spoke to about a specific issue - because will both be across it. It can be unnerving for people at first, but we find they very quickly become accustomed to treating us as the one person.

How did the arrangement come about?

Both of us had been working part-time for a few years - squeezing full time roles into three days a week. The idea came to us, initially as a bit of a joke, but when we researched it further we found evidence of senior executives in the US successfully job sharing roles, and thought - why not! We put together a proposal and presented it to the then CEO of IOOF, who said not only was he supportive of the idea, his previous CFO in the US had been a job share arrangement.

Finding the right person to share a role with is obviously part of the challenge and a critical part of the equation.

We worked together many years ago within the same marketing team, so we already knew each other's work style, ethic and quality. We were very open about trialling the arrangement, tweaking our work style and handover protocols where required. That's a really important part of a successful job share arrangement - both individuals have to be flexible and adaptable, and open to doing things a little differently than they would if they operated in a stand-alone role.

The benefit to the job sharers

1. Managing workload

We'd both worked in traditional part-time roles in the past, where the tendency was to squeeze a full-time workload into three days. The beauty of a job share arrangement, however, is that work doesn't build up on your days off, because there's always someone at your desk keeping it ticking along.

2. Fresh perspective

Our work week is divided into blocks - we each do two days, at the end of which we write up our handover notes... and Friday is our crossover day. Writing up the various projects' progress and hurdles, helps put things into perspective. And the added bonus is that, after two days, the other person comes in refreshed, and can often provide insights or ideas you hadn't considered.

3. The ultimate team work

The other key benefit is support and empathy. When you work within a harmonious team, there's the pleasure of being attuned to the others' workload, challenges and goals. A successful job-share arrangement takes this to the next level - your colleague doesn't just empathise with your challenges, they share the exact same ones.

Benefits to the employer

While the benefits to the job share partners may be obvious, there are also benefits to the employer:
• two heads for the price of one: while we have a lot of crossover in our skills, there are also varying strengths - which would be unlikely to be matched by one person's skill set;
• fresh eyes: challenges can always be put into perspective, because every two days we have a fresh pair of eyes assessing the issues and presenting new ideas; and
• continuity of service: if one person is unwell or goes on leave, work need not come to a stand-still as the other person can keep things ticking along.

Jarrod Brown, Bennelong Funds Management's Chief Executive Officer said, "We hired Darlene and Ella as they were the very best talent available with a willingness and desire to take a chance with essentially a 'start up' business. It didn't matter that it was two professionals undertaking a single senior role. I made the assumption that the combined resource was supremely more capable than many other individuals. It didn't matter that they were a 'job share' team."

"To have one of our absolutely key roles in a job share role is seemingly risky to most, but it has worked exceptionally smoothly for Bennelong. I think this is as much about the characters as anything else. Most of our market has assumed that we have a deep marketing team when for most of our journey, it has simply been the single 'full time resource' which has in fact been two and a half days each for two team members."

Job-sharing is the ultimate partnership but is not an arrangement that would work for everyone. Like all successful partnerships, you have to be respectful of each other, communicate well and have a shared vision. In addition, we have been fortunate to have an employer who has been very supportive of the arrangement, providing an environment in which we can continue to work at a senior level and progress our careers without having to do so in a full-time capacity.

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